Gators Get Defensive

Alabama defensive coordinator Joe Kines called a beautiful first half of football. He seemingly had the perfect call on to counter Florida’s offensive tendencies. That was until Chris Leak took off on a 45 yard quarterback draw in the second quarter that ignited the Gators attack. That was one play Kines did not have on his chart.

Leak dropped back and as the blocks up front opened took off. Fullback Billy Latsko took his man out of the play and Leak cut back to his left and ran untouched, three yards shy of the Alabama goal line. Reserve quarterback Tim Tebow finished off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.

As fine a start as Kines’ received from his Alabama defense- it was the Florida defense that stole this show.

The Alabama Crimson Tide ran 70 offensive plays and failed to put the ball into the endzone. When the visitors from Tuscaloosa got into or near the Gators red zone, Florida contained them or pushed them backwards. The Crimson Tide had no other choice than to call upon kicker Jamie Christensen. That spells game, set, and match for the Florida defense.

It was certainly wasn’t the start the Gators had hoped for though.

Most everything was coming up Crimson in the first half. Field position clearly benefited the Crimson Tide. The Florida offense was unable to make anything happen as Kines’ blitzed them early and fairly often with definite success Furthermore, Alabama was receiving terrific play from sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson, who for the most part, continued to play like a seasoned veteran.

But, a stingy Gators defense turned an ugly face toward Wilson in the second half. Co-defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong placed their troops into positions to make plays. Those efforts eventually rattled Wilson and the Gators picked him off three times, returning one for a score. If cornerback Ryan Smith had Dallas Baker’s hands- the Florida defense would have picked of a fourth and outscored Alabama by themselves. There is no question that Smith could have mimicked free safety Reggie Nelson and found his way into the endzone on the ill-advised Wilson pass.

Wilson completed 10-15 (75%) for 87 yards in the opening half. He completed only 11 of 25 (44%) in the second half.

Despite the most impressive performance of the season by Alabama tailback Kenneth Darby, the Crimson Tide was held to just 83 yards (2.76 ypc) rushing. Darby looked every bit the back who received so much pre-season attention. He powered, cut, and sliced his way for 76 yards on 16 carries. He also hauled in four passes for 29 yards. His 4.75 yards per carry average was the one thing that kept Alabama offense in the contest in the second half.

There were several other key points to consider after watching the Gators run their record to 5-0:

* The Gators played through a bevy of mental mistakes and still secured a 15 point victory. Impressively, Florida outscored Alabama 28-3 after going down by ten points in the opening quarter. So, despite the mental errors, the Gators don’t allow those mistakes to get the best of them. Perhaps most importantly, a Florida offensive line that was getting hammered by the Crimson Tide early in the contest reversed their fortunes. The O-Line established the run and did an admirable job protecting Leak in the second quarter and throughout the second half. Mental toughness is complete. If they’re able to avoid making mental mistakes that put them in a hole- how good might this team be?

* Kudos to the offensive staff for using the rolling pocket to help protect Leak and keep the Alabama defensive front running. A few of the Alabama big men seemed to tire late in the contest despite the fact that Florida had run only 54 offensive plays.

* It’s clearly obvious this is a team that has not reached its’ potential. That brings up two very important points. First of all, they won’t be able to get away with those mistakes against LSU next weekend. Secondly, how good could this team be if they are able to get into an offensive rhythm to go along with a stellar defensive effort?

* How much worse might this have been with Florida defensive tackle Marcus Thomas?

* Quarterback Chris Leak was not sharp in the first half either. He was clearly not in sync with Dallas Baker, Andre Caldwell, and Jemalle Cornelius. But, he too played through and got better as the game went along. In fact, Leak’s quarterback draw seemingly put a spring in his step. He completed just 50% of his passes in the opening stanza and finished with a flurry completing 9-10 (90%) in the second half.

* Florida’s secondary seemingly took the coaches’ challenge of playing against a talented trio- Wilson, Brown, and Hall. They didn’t make every play, but they had good coverage for most of the day and helped an active front seven force Alabama into committing turnovers.

* The Gators shot themselves in the foot a couple of key possessions with stupid penalties. An illegal block on Brandon James first punt return and the delay of game penalty on their first possession did not help in the field possession in the first quarter. Ditto Carlton Medder’s false start on the Gators second possession, which forced Florida into a 3rd and 11.

* The staff couldn’t have been happy with the results on third down. Offensively, Florida converted a horrendous 4 of 11 (36.3%), a season low. Defensively, the Gators allowed the Crimson Tide to convert 8 of 15 (53%). The Tide converted a season high for opponents.

* Florida averaged four yards per rush in this one. The Gators offensive front started slow, but took control of the line of scrimmage in the second half. Florida ran for 133 yards.

Florida will face a much tougher opponent next Saturday when the LSU Tigers (4-1) come to town. Many believe these Tigers are the best overall team in the Western Division and the conference.